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SMITH: Retirement really can be a 'new stage of opportunity, strength'

• Nov 2, 2018 at 3:00 PM

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” — Betty Friedan

There are certain phrases that seem to be standard in conversation at transitional points in our life. As a student approaches their final year of high school, the most frequently heard question is: “So, what are you going to do when you graduate?”

As an adult approaches retirement, the most common question is: “So, what are you going to do when you retire?” That was the question I was asked many times not long ago, and truth be known, I didn’t really have a comfortable answer. Even though I was an active person, I didn’t have any strong convictions like saving the world or great hobbies like woodworking. I just knew that I was passionate about spending my soon-to-be-acquired free time exploring. Exploring all that life has to offer.

I wanted to step outside my comfort zone into worlds not familiar to me. So, when one of my friends asked me what I was going to do in retirement, I proudly stated, “Become an explorer.”

I could hear his eyes rolling into the back of his head. Being a normal human being, I was a little bit put off by his response, and it made me question what exactly I meant by exploring.

Fast-forward four years and I’m happy to tell you that exploring is exactly what I’m doing in retirement and it is invigorating.

One of my first forays into an unfamiliar world was into the world of pets and their owners, specifically horses. Early in my retirement, I met and became friends with a veterinarian who specialized in large animals. I asked if I could spend a day with him, and he was delighted to have someone other than a middle or high school student riding with him.

Having only owned cats (and do we really “own” cats?) I never truly understood or imagined how anyone could be so passionate about a pet. What an enlightening day I had!

The first barn we stopped at was so neat and clean, you might have considered eating off the floor. To top it off, the owner had made muffins and sent us on our way with a newly baked, still warm supply for the day. What a way to start the day!

While every stop was different, there were some common themes I learned about horse owners. They are passionate about their horse(s) and would do anything they could to assure their friend/partner’s continued health. It was also very obvious that over the years they developed a strong bond with their vet and they probably trust him more than they trust their personal physician. I found that, even at the end of the horse’s life, they insist upon comfort, humanity and respect for their horse.

Another friend encouraged me to drive for Harbor Transit, so I took the challenge. If you want to learn more about your community, drive the local bus.

I came to understand just how vast the Tri-Cities area really is. On top of that, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to a wide variety of interesting people, expanding my knowledge and understanding of my new community. While in the end the job didn’t fit my needs, it was definitely a step outside my comfort zone and in turn a great experience.

One opportunity I was looking forward to in retirement was to substitute teach. My strong belief in public education was quickly reinforced and, on top of that, I quickly recognized just how dedicated every teacher is. Each morning when I walked into a classroom, without exception, there was a detailed, well-written plan for the day with appropriate references.

Many of us have preconceived ideas about how students will act with a sub and, as with most prejudices, they are wrong. Overall, I found that the students in the area are supportive, kind and fun to spend time with.

When we first moved to Grand Haven, my wife and I made a commitment to explore the community to find a church or spiritual family where we felt welcomed and stimulated. We had a plan to visit a wide variety of churches to find one that fit. While the plan was to visit many, we were pleased and grateful when we found the perfect fit for us in one of our early visits.

We quickly learned that C3, West Michigan’s Inclusive Spiritual Community, was the place for us. Through this committed community, we have made many good friends and continually find opportunities to serve throughout the area. For me, it was a reminder that if you are willing to put in the effort, it is possible to find your place in a community.

Whether we are new in a community or have been a lifelong resident, retirement is a new opportunity for all of us. If you have plans to save the world, please do! If you have a great hobby, then dive into it! For the rest of us, and maybe even the first two groups, retirement is a unique opportunity to take some chances, to step outside our comfort zone and to search the community for opportunities that we might never have known about. You will have to take my word on this as “aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”

— By Mark Smith, Tribune community columnist

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